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HREOC media release: Indigenous peoples shouldn't take fall for housing problems

Commission Commission – General

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Indigenous peoples shouldn't take fall for housing problems

Responsibility for the mismanagement and failure of the federal government's Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP) should not be blamed on Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today.

While welcoming the review by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) of CHIP which has been in operation in Indigenous communities since the 1960s, Commissioner Calma said the findings were a serious indictment of decades of government mismanagement and neglect in delivering the basic human right of housing to Indigenous Australians.

"Despite Minister Brough's comments last week blaming the previous ATSIC organisation for CHIP's failure to improve Indigenous housing, this review found that governments are just as much, if not more, responsible for the program's failure as Indigenous organisations," Commissioner Calma said.

"The CHIP scheme was never headed up by Indigenous people - and they should not be the fall guys for government incompetence."

Mr Calma said the review itself had found it incomprehensible that there had never been a single, accurate set of expenditure and outcome information available for CHIP.

"Governments have never had a handle on this program, and yet the Minister is prepared to describe it as 'an ATSIC basket case' and once again blame Indigenous people for the problem," he said.

"Government needs to accept its share of the responsibility for the lack of progress in Indigenous housing over the last decade whilst they have been at the helm."

Mr Calma said the Government had to listen to the advice of Indigenous peoples and organisations about the design, delivery and maintenance of Indigenous housing and infrastructure.

"It is essential that Indigenous Australians are front and centre of any new Indigenous housing policy. If the government is serious about boosting Indigenous economic independence, it will also ensure that Indigenous peoples are trained to work in the housing sector so they can build and maintain their own housing stock and infrastructure," Mr Calma said.

While agreeing with the need for a fundamental rethink of Indigenous housing, Mr Calma said any new policies must be based on sound, tested research and will result in more adequate housing being provided to Indigenous Australians.

"I am very concerned that neither the PWC recommendations, nor the Minister's recent announcements about axing most Indigenous community housing organisations are based on any credible evidence that the mainstream housing sector will achieve better housing outcomes for Indigenous Australians," Mr Calma said.

"Given how overburdened the mainstream public housing sector already is, before it is hit with an influx of thousands of new Indigenous clients there is a serious risk that we will lose all ability to track the extent to which the needs of Indigenous clients are being met by the mainstream housing sector.

"We already know that are substantial invisible obstacles that make it very difficult for Indigenous peoples to access mainstream housing, yet the PWC recommendations don't address these and don't acknowledge that Indigenous clients will have distinct cultural needs that the mainstream cannot accommodate."

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597


13 March, 2007